NORTH LIBERTY — Children and teens who are food insecure may be assured school breakfasts and lunches but after the final bell, there’s no guarantee they’ll get another meal until the next morning.
To ensure local youth have at least something in their stomachs, the North Liberty Community Library has partnered with JM Swank, a food ingredient distributor based in North Liberty, to provide after-school snacks each weekday.
Erin Silva, youth and teen services librarian, said she has given out snacks to about 15 to 20 kids per day since the program began at the end of September.
“The idea is to offer the kids a snack if they are at one of our programs,” Silva said, adding there’s after-school programming on Tuesdays and Thursdays.
On weekdays when there isn’t programming, librarians often ask kids to try to answer a question of the week or read picture books.
Silva said the idea for the program came after children started asking her for food after school. She said she’s noticed full bellies help with behavior and focus while kids are at the library.
“Generally, it’s a lot of the same kids everyday but we don’t care. We’re just happy that they’re coming to the library,” Silva said. “After school, they are hungry. Some of them have lunch at like 11 (a.m.).”
ARTICLE CONTINUES BELOW ADVERTISEMENT
The number of children who have qualified for free and reduced lunch in the Iowa City Community School District has been on the rise in recent years, according to the Johnson County Hunger Task Force report from February 2016.
“Between 2000 and 2010 the number of children eligible for free and reduced lunch jumped 64 percent ...” according to the report.
In all, more than 14 percent of Johnson County’s residents are food insecure, according to the report.
Currently, the snack program runs on weekdays and offers non-perishable snacks like pretzels, fruit snacks and granola bars. Silva, however, imagines the program could be much bigger in the future.
She said she imagines the program could grow to be run on weekends and involve the library’s garden. She also suggests teaching kids useful skills, like how to make salsa, as part of the snack program.
“I don’t know what they’re getting at home once they go home,” Silva said, adding that many of the kids she sees in the library stay until 6 or 7 p.m. “If this is the only thing that they get between school lunch and school breakfast the next morning, it’s not enough, obviously, but at least it’s something.”
l Comments: (319) 339-3172; firstname.lastname@example.org